OVERCAST AND empty was the mood in Warrandyte when I met Emma Wood on Referendum day in the local Now and Not Yet Café to chat to her about her plays, directing, her writing processes, A Hit and Miss Christmas, and a variety of other topics too personal to make it into this article.
As I await Emma’s arrival, I order a loose-leaf oat chai and look through my research notes for a last bit of preparation. Emma has written and published three 15-minute one-act plays: Real World 101, Voices, and Women of the World, and five full-length plays: Water Child, Mr Bennet’s Bride, A Hit and Miss Christmas, The Third Act, and Piece of Mind — which incidentally is being performed in February next year at Lilydale Atheneum, directed by Susan Rundle.
She also recently collaborated with Warrandyte Theatre Company and Ballarat National Theatre Company, producing A 2020 Vision — an online curation of lockdown experiences “constructed entirely from the words of local residents” and wrote a verbatim script called Turning Points in collaboration with stroke survivors, performed in 2019.
Before she moved to Warrandyte, Emma worked, lived, and wrote in Newcastle, New South Wales, where her play Water Child won Best New Play at the 2012 City of Newcastle Drama Awards.
Women of the World won the Audience Choice award at Short and Sweet Manila 2017, and A Hit and Miss Christmas and The Third Act have been finalists in UK and US competitions.
Not a bad feat for someone who wasn’t planning on being a writer.
I’ve chosen a seat at the window near the door, and I take Emma by surprise when she enters and looks around.
I’m sitting there like a gremlin, grinning up at her.
“Hi!” I say with a wave as she takes a step back to get me in focus.
She gives me a big smile and hug and joins me at the table.
She orders a turmeric latte, and we share a raspberry, apple, and white chocolate muffin.
What strikes me about Emma the most — apart from us being tall lady buddies — is her reflective nature in her writing and her personality.
She is always interested in making sure she’s creating a safe and open environment for people to share and feel comfortable, especially in the acting and directing space.
Perhaps that is a monocle of her high school Drama teaching style, but I feel it’s an intrinsic element in her general, good-humoured nature.
A Hit and Miss Christmas will be the first time Emma has directed one of her own scripts.
During their first table reading at the hall, Emma was sure to make the distinction to her cast that she wanted them to see her as the director and not the writer.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the cast to be going here’s the script, and then next week, so here’s the script, and I’ve just got these changes.
“No one is ever in a play and doesn’t have some things where they are like, ‘ugh, this is hard to work with’.
“I want them to be able to say to me as a director so I can put aside my writer feelings and go ‘okay, cool, let’s work this as director and actor’.”
Emma went on to say co-directing with her friend Anika Means allowed her to focus on directing.
“You can sometimes have blind spots in your own work, and we’ve known each other long enough that she can be quite frank with me.”
Emma wrote her first play, Water Child, when she was 35 with a one-year-old.
“I woke up one morning with an idea.
“It was burning enough to get me out of bed at 4am and start writing.
“You know, when you’re in a flow, it just feels really good; I was absolutely in the zone.”
Emma credits ideas as “just coming to her”.
However, as she talks, it’s clear that her unconscious and conscious observations of subjects and experiences that ignite her passions seem to ruminate around in her mind until a story starts to form.
Playwriting is her way of expressing what she sees in the world.
She shares them as plots and characters on a journey of transformation that an audience can relate to.
Allowing for a contemplation of the watcher’s own life through the lens of a relatable or un-relatable character and being entertained by it.
And that’s exactly how A Hit and Miss Christmas “dawned on” her.
It was a combination of “being around community theatre companies long enough to realise that there’s quite often a bit of a scramble for a festive feeling play [at the end of the year], and there just aren’t that many to choose from.”
She said that while looking at the American community theatre scene, she noticed that many theatre companies would just do A Christmas Carol every year — and that’s where the idea came from.
She said there is always tension in theatre companies between people who want to bring something more contemporary and edgy, and the champions of the bums-on-seats classic who don’t care if it has been seen 10 times; they need to fill the coffers.
“When I wrote A Hit and Miss Christmas, my intention was to write just a laugh-out-loud comedy with absolutely no meaning, and I couldn’t do it! [Laughs]
“So eventually what came through was a desire to write something that was genuinely festive, but I suppose in a way it’s also a bit of a love letter to community theatre.
“There’s always argy-bargy, but there’s also friendship, and there’s sometimes potential for transformation.
“And I’ve always thought that was a beautiful thing about theatre, so I just thought I’d explore that a bit too.”
I’m pleased to say that Emma’s passion and energy for writing, our drinks, and the warmth of Now and Not Yet Café effortlessly cast out the surrounding gloom of the day.
I hope you have been as uplifted as I was by her humour, insights, and willingness to share so deeply and frankly about her process.
A Hit and Miss Christmas is premiering for the first time in Victoria later this month at Warrandyte Theatre Company, with eight performances over six evenings and two matinees between November 17 and December 2,